Justice Department Announces New Rules, Makes More Drug Offenders Eligible for Clemency

On Wednesday April, 23 rd, the U.S. Department of Justice announced new rules that can allow more non-violent drug offenders serving sentences for federal crimes to apply for clemency. The announcement was made by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who clarified the new rules and stated that the Justice Department will expand clemency criteria.

The new policy could allow up to 2,000 prisoners – most of whom are serving drug sentence – to apply for a commuted sentence, or early release. The rule changes are part of a comprehensive effort to promote prison reform and relieve resources and overcrowded prisons, as well as a shift toward leniency for non-violent offenders.

This effort focuses largely on outdated sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, harsh mandatory minimum sentences, and the disparity in drug sentences, such as the large disparity between penalties for crack and powdered cocaine offenses – a matter many have argued circles back to race and class. Before President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2011, there was a 100-to-1 ratio between penalties for crack and powdered cocaine offenses.

Under the new rules, prisoners may be eligible for clemency under the new criteria:

  • Must be serving federal sentences that are longer than if they were convicted today
  • Must have served at least 10 years of their sentence
  • Must be low-level, non-violent offenders
  • Clean prison records
  • No history of violence before or during prison term
  • No significant criminal history

To deal with the expected influx of clemency requests, more attorneys have been appointed by the Justice Department. While up to 2,000 federal prisoners may be eligible for clemency, that number may drop into the hundreds once attorneys review their applications.

The new rules are a significant step toward much-needed prison reform. According to our very own St. Louis criminal defense attorney Nicole Chiravollatti, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama are doing significant work at the federal level – work that changes unfair sentences for first-time federal drug offenders. "This is a huge step in the right direction," Attorney Chiravollatti says, "and will hopefully trickle down to the states, including Missouri, so that drug offenders can get help instead of incarceration."

If you or your loved one has been charged with a drug crime – including a federal drug crime – The Hammer Law Firm, LLC can help. To discuss your case during a free consultation, call 314-334-3807.

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